US and UK condemn arrest of Hong Kong democracy activists | World news


The US and UK have criticised the arrest of 15 Hong Kong democracy activists on charges of organising and participating in anti-government protests last year.

The arrests on Saturday were the biggest crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement since the outbreak of mass protests last year.

“The United States condemns the arrest of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said.

“Beijing and its representatives in Hong Kong continue to take actions inconsistent with commitments made under the Sino-British Joint Declaration that include transparency, the rule of law, and guarantees that Hong Kong will continue to ‘enjoy a high degree of autonomy’.”

The arrested supporters of the pro-democracy movement included Democratic Party founder and barrister Martin Lee, 81, millionaire publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, 71, and former lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng, 72.

Police said those arrested were aged between 24 and 81, and they were detained on charges of organising and participating in “unlawful assemblies” on 18 August and 1 and 20 October last year.

Major and often violent demonstrations broke out across the former British colony on those days.

They were all due to appear in court on 18 May. Police said more arrests were possible.

Some of those arrested were released on bail late on Saturday.

In Britain, a Foreign Office representative said the government expected any arrests and court procedures to be “conducted in a fair and transparent manner”.

A new Hong Kong extradition law is proposed, which would allow people to be transferred to mainland China for a variety of crimes. Residents fear it could lead to politically motivated extraditions into China’s much harsher judicial system.

Large public demonstrations start as thousands march in the streets to protest against the extradition bill.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, introduces concessions to the extradition bill, including limiting the scope of extraditable offences, but critics say they are not enough.

The scale of protests continues to increase as more than half a million people take to the streets. Police use rubber bullets and teargas against the biggest protests Hong Kong has seen for decades.

Lam says the proposed extradition law has been postponed indefinitely.

The protests continue as demonstrators storm the Legislative Council, destroying pictures, daubing graffiti on the walls and flying the old flag of Hong Kong emblazoned with the British union flag. The protests coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the UK back to China.

Armed men in white T-shirts thought to be supporting the Chinese government attack passengers and passers-by in Yuen Long metro station, while nearby police take no action.

44 protesters are charged with rioting, which further antagonises the anti-extradition bill movement.

By now the protest movement has coalesced around five key demands: complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, withdrawal of the use of the word “riot” in relation to the protests, unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped, an independent inquiry into police behaviour and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage.

The first charges are brought against protesters for covering their faces, after authorities bring in new laws banning face masks in order to make it easier to identify or detain protesters.

Chan Tong-kai, the murder suspect whose case prompted the original extradition bill is released from prison, saying that he is willing to surrender himself to Taiwan. The extradition bill is also formally withdrawn, a key demand of protesters.

Chow Tsz-lok, 22, becomes the first direct fatality of the protests. Chow, a computer science student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), was found injured in a car park in Tseung Kwan O in Kowloon, where he was believed to have fallen one storey. Protesters had been trying to disrupt a police officer’s wedding, which was being held in the area. A week later a 70-year-old cleaner who is thought to have been hit by a brick during a clash between protesters and pro-Beijing residents becomes the second person to die.

The Foreign Office also said the right to peaceful protest was “fundamental to Hong Kong’s way of life” and authorities should avoid “actions that inflame tensions”.

“The authorities should focus on rebuilding trust through a process of meaningful political dialogue,” the Foreign Office said.

The Hong Kong government defended the arrests, which the city’s Security Bureau said were carried out in line with the law.

“In Hong Kong, everyone is equal before the law … No one has any special privileges,” said a bureau spokesman.

The International Bar Association said Hong Kong authorities should not encroach on human rights and the legal system must guard against any abuses of power while the world was preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic.

The association condemned the arrests of Lee and Ng, who have been active human rights and rule of law campaigners during their careers.

It was vital that justice was applied transparently in Hong Kong, especially while the world was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, it said.

“It is critical that authorities do not use their powers to encroach on fundamental human rights, and it is vital that legal systems continue to protect citizens from any abuse of power which may otherwise be unseen during the Covid-19 crisis in which the international community is submerged,” it said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

In a special report published on Tuesday, three of Hong Kong’s top judges told Reuters that the independence of the city’s judicial system was under assault from the Communist Party leadership in Beijing. The judiciary, they said, was in a fight for its survival.

Hong Kong returned to Beijing in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guaranteed broad freedoms not seen in mainland China, and a high degree of autonomy.



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